Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Woman on the Rink

A Vancouver Sun story, from Saturday, about Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked.

Rumour has it she may be making an appearance on CBC's programme "Q" later this week, as part of a hockey panel. We'll keep you posted.

Woman on the rink
Lorna Jackson left a country music career and discovered writing. Now she's writing about something else she had left behind -- her love of hockey
Joe Wiebe
Special to the Sun

The stereotypical image makes men the only serious students of the game. Women who follow hockey are more interested in the players' looks than their stats and avert their eyes when a scrap erupts on the ice, while men cheer for blood.

Following this logic, it is presumed that men are the truer hockey fans and women just spectators.

Lorna Jackson will tell you that's nonsense, although it's true that when women dare to enter a debate about hockey, they get "shut down and shut up, ignored or derided, dismissed."

The Vancouver-born author who now makes her home in Metchosin, half an hour west of Victoria, is no mere hockey spectator. For proof, read her book, Cold-Cocked: On Hockey (Biblioasis, 206 pages, $19.95). It's an incisive and provocative study of our national sport through female eyes.

Its main focus is on the team Jackson admires most, the Vancouver Canucks. On the second page, she establishes her stance as both a fan and a writer:

Vancouver is a hockey town though easterners don't see it that way and never have. We fill the seats at the Garage night after night, and still a player or owner or Toronto broadcaster crowns Toronto the country's hockey mecca and claims the game for themselves. We are told that hockey fans grew up playing on frozen ponds, that hockey as Canadian identity stems from the bitter cold winters, the ice and snow, the flatness of landscape and the vast horizon of winter.

F--- that noise. [...] You want ice? Thirteen thousand years ago, it was 1500 metres deep where downtown Vancouver stands, but the ice age ended. We moved on.

Over breakfast in a Main Street café, Jackson is not quite as strident or forceful as this quote might imply, but it's clear she knows her stuff. She teaches fiction in the University of Victoria's writing program and has written a novel (A Game to Play on the Tracks) and a collection of short stories (Dressing for Hope).

She hasn't been a life-long hockey fan. She loved watching it with her father as a teenager in Vancouver but was turned off by the increase in violence that arrived in the mid-1970s with the Philadelphia Flyers, better known as the Broad Street Bullies.

She left hockey behind as a young adult, turning instead to music. She became a country singer, touring all over B.C.

It was a self-destructive lifestyle, she admits now, so after about eight years she stopped drinking, gave up the music scene and went back to school. Initially, she thought she'd get a law degree, but she "ended up in the writing department and never left."

During the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, she found herself drawn back to the game, led by the heroics of our national team, which finally won gold after 50 years of disappointment.

The Canucks also got her attention that winter as they became competitive again under the leadership of players like Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Ed Jovanovski. Around that time, she decided to write this book.

"I started taking notes then and talking to people around me, especially women," she explains. "It seemed to me that my experience of coming back to the game and getting worked up about it wasn't just me -- it seemed to be a cultural shift."

Part of her excitement came from a fictional interview with Bobby Orr she had written as part of a book of short fiction, called Flirt: the Interviews, which will be published next year.

She also found herself sharing a love of the game with her teenage daughter, Lily, and this made her think about watching hockey with her late father. Her exploration of his life is one of several very compelling threads in the book.

"I wanted it to be a writerly book," she says, "and I wanted to play with sportswriting, as well. The cliché is that men don't read and women don't read about sports, but that's not true at all. I wanted to build a book that used sportswriting and pushed it a little harder and was inclusive of those categories."

Jackson has definitely succeeded: Cold-Cocked is not only a hockey book; it is also a memoir of a particularly tumultuous, emotional time.

Her exploration of her father's life brought long-suppressed emotions to the surface, and she also forced herself to endure painful physiotherapy for an old knee injury -- all while she was going through menopause.

Over the course of the 2002-03 and 2003-04 hockey seasons, Jackson followed the Canucks closely, attending games -- often with Lily, but sometimes accompanied by female friends with different levels of appreciation for the game. She also sought out the opinions of other writers and poets, especially women, and even interviewed some of the Canucks, including Brad May, Johan Hedberg and Trevor Linden.

Maybe writers don't make the best sports fans or, at least, not the most supportive ones. Jackson says she watches the game more for a story than just to cheer the Canucks on. She admits to liking a tie better than an easy victory because it forms a more exciting story.

Thus, for her the 2003-04 season was too predictable. "It was too boring. They were winning, over and over again. They probably would have won that year, and I wasn't that interested in that.

"But the story got better when that trajectory got upset."

The upset she is referring to is, of course, the incident that gave the book its title: Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Steve Moore. It left the Colorado Avalanche player with a career-ending injury, resulted in a major suspension for Bertuzzi and seemed to scuttle the Canucks' will to compete.

"I was as appalled and depressed as anyone else was," she says of the incident, "but I was also gleeful. My book just got better."

Similarly, she admits that when her husband, Tom, announced he was leaving her, "I recognized it as a better ending than what I had. That's what writers do. I would be lying if I denied it."

Obviously, Cold-Cocked is much more than a book about hockey. That's what makes it easy to recommend to readers male and female and to people who wouldn't normally consider reading a hockey book written by a woman.

Still, we're talking about hockey, so I have to ask her if she hopes her Canucks will win it all, one of these years.

"They don't have to win the Cup. I would be over the moon, but that's not why I'm watching hockey right now," she claims.

"I want to see how they come together as a team, I want to see what some of the young guys do, I want to see what will probably be the best defensive core in the year. I want to see the magic they can do, and I want to see if Naslund has anything left."

Sounds like a true fan to me.

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